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A Trip to DC

5 min read

Table of contents

If you were to tell sixth-grade me I’d be in DC talking to politicians, I wouldn’t believe you.

But here we are, taking a picture with Jessica Ennis (far right) from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Cindy Su, Sasha Truax, and I came to DC as representatives from our high school, Timberline High School, to advocate for wolf protections in Idaho. We’re a part of Timberline’s environmental club, TREE Club, and the International Wildlife Coexistence Network’s Youth Council (IWCN).

Our fight started when we heard about Senate Bill 1211 and the consequent killing of the Timberline Pack, a wolf pack named after our high school. Since then, we’ve done as much as we can to help the wolves’ plight, eventually leading us to DC.

Our trip began on July 16 at the Taking Action for Animals Conference, hosted by the Humane Society. Here, we listened to a panel of eminent wolf experts delineate different ways for citizens to help wolves.

The day after, we had our first meeting—with CEQ. Which… no sweat, right? It’s just the White House after all.

Sasha started our meeting by telling the story of our high school’s relationship with the wolves. Then, Cindy reminded CEQ about SB 1211’s authorization to treat wolves as coyotes or other vermin-like creatures. I detailed the many assumptions that Idaho’s wolf monitoring model made and broke and showed CEQ a map of the wolf kills in 2021, comparing them to the 2015 wolf activity map generated by Idaho Fish and Game.

Finally, Cindy concluded by stressing the public safety issue of allowing trapping within 10 ft. of trails in Idaho.

Our subsequent meetings—with US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Wildlife Services, Senator Cory Booker, and Representative Mike Simpson—contained similar information to our meeting with CEQ.

Fish and Wildlife Service

We highlighted the 2009 delisting rule in the federal register, which indicated that emergency relisting would be pursued if Idaho authorized the unlimited and unregulated taking of wolves (which SB 1211 functionally did). The FWS’s attorney countered by noting that “pursue” is a process, basically allowing FWS to indefinitely pursue emergency relisting. Well played, I guess.

What really annoyed me was Martha Williams’ response to Suzanne Stone’s (IWCN’s executive director) ask to help the wolves. Martha was patronizing and told Suzanne to put her emotions aside as if the “wolf issue” isn’t emotional (and let us not ignore that (1) emotions give life meaning and (2) pathos is an extremely useful persuasive heuristic). Our school’s pack was murdered. How can we possibly put aside our emotions?

We did get one win against FWS, though. Martha said we presented information better than any of their attorneys did (and her secretary tried to play it down... because bad press, I guess). That was a confidence boost, but at the same time… hire better attorneys.

Wildlife Services

Wildlife Services was surprisingly receptive. Janet Bucknall (deputy administrator) and her team created a dialogue between them and us. They weren’t aware of the deficiencies in the space-to-event model (Idaho’s wolf population model) and said they’d look into it. They’re willing to communicate with us as we move forward, which is amazing.

Unfortunately, Wildlife Services only focuses on around 14 game management units with chronic depredation losses in Idaho (Idaho Fish and Game defines chronic as 1 cattle/sheep loss per year in a game management unit—ridiculous, I know). They do have funding dedicated purely to non-lethal measures, which was assuring to hear.

Senator Cory Booker

Meeting Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and his staff was great. Senator Booker exudes charisma and confidence wherever he goes. The room’s atmosphere immediately changed when he entered.

He took selfies with each of us and recorded a video to send to our parents, complimenting the work we’ve done. Unfortunately, he had to go to a hearing, so we didn’t talk to him much. Regardless, his staff has been keeping up with the stuff we’ve been doing, and they were very sympathetic to our message. It was great to have someone on our side!

After meeting Senator Booker, I’ve rethought my ideal career. I’ve always assumed I’d have a job in STEM, but now I’m more uncertain than ever. I thought all politicians were corrupt—or eventually become corrupt—but Senator Booker has proven me wrong.

I might just go into law, and, who knows, maybe I can be a senator like him one day.

Representative Mike Simpson

We had an appointment with Representative Simpson (R-ID). As you can see in the picture below, he didn’t meet with us, which was frustrating. All of our houses are within Idaho’s 2nd district—the same district Rep. Simpson represents. Yet, we didn’t get a meeting with him. What’s even more frustrating is that we walked right past him on our way to talk to his secretary (it seemed like he could care less that we were there).

Nonetheless, we gave our spiel about wolves to his secretary and moved on. I am, however, thankful to Rep. Simpson for endorsing the removal of the lower Snake River dams.

Representative Dan Kildee

Oh, and of course you’ll randomly meet politicians by walking in front of the Capitol. We overheard Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) giving his grandson a tour of the Capitol and walked up to him to say hi. I promise I was happier than my face says in the picture.

We can all go to cool places and talk to cool people, but why does that matter? What lessons did we learn?

No feats are accomplished without a team.

History often immortalizes one person for one accomplishment, as if there’s a quota per accomplishment. This, however, is far from the truth.

If the IWCN didn’t fund our trip and the Endangered Species Coalition (ESC) didn’t get us our DC meetings, none of this would’ve happened. Both the IWCN and ESC are comprised of many people working under one name, so, one last time, thank you if you had any part in bringing us to DC or giving us the right connections.

And thank you, too, if you commented on any of Suzanne’s Facebook posts! We read your comments and were happy to hear support from all over!

Your voice matters.

I’m still not sure why any of these officials took time to listen to a few high schoolers. But, what this does show is that anyone’s voice can make an impact, and there are more people that will listen than you think.

Each of us, however, has to get our voices out there. It seems obvious, but if you don’t speak, you won’t be heard. So please: speak up, no matter what it’s about.

I want to say the trip to DC was a success, but that’ll be decided when the status review of the wolves is released. Regardless of the result, we will keep fighting, no matter how many trips we’ll have to make.

Michel Liao

Michel Liao

Boise, Idaho, United States
Hello! I'm a sophomore studying computer science at Princeton. I like reading, rock climbing, and running.